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It's a phenomenon the Japanese call the Silver Tsunami, and it refers to a dramatic increase in our aging population – and the concurrent, rapid decline in the younger demographic who can provide for them.
The challenge this poses for us is twofold, said Institute Director Milos Popovic, in his opening remarks at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute's annual Research Day last week.
We probably won't be able to generate sufficient funding to support seniors, and we won't have enough workforce and capacity to care for them, Dr. Popovic said.
"Fortunately for us, we are at an institution positioned to deal with this situation and provide actual solutions for the tsunami," Dr. Popovic said at the outset of the event. "We're going to roll up our sleeves and figure out how to help the patients, their families and society deal with this challenge."
We don't have the luxury of conducting research for the purpose of being published, or for sake of running research, Dr. Popovic continued.
"There's a clear sense of urgency to generate solutions for this looming crisis," he said. "We are the ones who can provide them, and we need to provide them soon.
"This kind of opportunity happens once in a millennia. This is our moment in history. We will approach this mission with passion, with integrity and with intensity."
With those words echoing in their ears, the Toronto Rehab community launched into the day they anticipate all year.
With a focus on impact, 78 researchers had the opportunity to promote their contributions in the areas of prevention, restoration of function, and enabling independence. Many of these contributions represented solutions to deal with that population tsunami.
The crowd of more than 350 was made up of colleagues, students, representatives from various branches of government, industry and researchers from TR sister institutions in Edmonton and Buffalo.
But, as with all great opportunities, there was a catch.
The key to Research Day is the minute madness, explained Senior Scientist Geoff Fernie, as he laid out rules for the crowd. Each presenter had 60 seconds to share their research, why they're conducting it, what they've come up with – or are moving towards – and why it matters.
"You need to finish within the minute, and if you don't, the consequences are significant," he joked. "In fact, people have known this to be a career-limiting, if not life-limiting event."
Laughs aside, the struggle to summarize your passion is real – but essential in being able to rally interest around your research and investments from potential funding partners.
This year's presenters rose to the challenge to deliver a day that was full of discovery.
In the prevention category, Victoria Young described how her team is studying the current challenges and motivations of providing urgent medical diagnostic services at home.
"What if urgent care could be provided to older adults in their home, complete with x-ray and ultrasound? Going to the emergency department may no longer be necessary," she said.
"Benefits may include reduced risk of infection, falls, and medication conflicts, access to faster care, and better health outcomes."
In the restoration category, Alana Changoor explained how her team is working to improve mood, adjustment and coping in people with acquired brain injuries, via remotely deliverable cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).
"We have looked at a model of talk therapy for brain injury and adapted it for telephone delivery," she said. "We found it is effective in improving coping and mental distress over the long term.
"For the thousands of Canadians who [live in remote areas], have a brain injury and require mental healthcare, CBT telephone therapy will provide hope for mental health recovery."
In the enabling independence category, Romeo Colobong took the minute madness one step further, by delivering his presentation in song. His team developed an animated video to help foster collaboration between researchers and older adults, in the research and development of technologies.
"Involving older adults is critical to the development of technologies that are tailored to their needs," he said. "Based on our scoping review, we created a short animation video that highlights ways of engaging them, and the value that they can bring to the research and design process."
Research Day Awards
Several awards were presented to the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute community, in recognition of their outstanding work.
Geoff Fernie Impact Awards: Bastien Moineau, Kramay Patel, Sin-Tung Lau
Joel Verwegen Award: Alana Changoor
Best Publication Awards: Alex Terpstra, Shehroz Khan
Technovation Award: Shumit Saha
TD Graduate Scholarship for People with Disabilities: Jirapat Likitlersuang, Stefania Moro, John Shepherd
Best Poster – Post Doctoral: Andrea Bandini
Best Poster – PhD: Emily King
Best Poster – Masters: Jason Paquette
Best Poster – Undergrad: Domenica Fanelli
Best Interactive Display: Halina (Lin) Haag, Aaron Yurkewich
People's Choice Award: Romeo Colobong